I don’t know what overcame me. I honestly don’t. All I know is that one second I was staring down at my shocked sister and the next my hands were on her face and a blinding light was forcing me to close my eyes, and that the pain from this morning lit up my stomach with a vengeance. Closing my eyes didn’t make the light disappear and every second that I was touching my sister felt like I was being drained of all that I was. My stomach felt like it was trying to tear me apart from the inside out, like I’d let a thousand little fire-ants run amok throughout my abdomen, but the blinding light sucked my energy away and I could barely react to the pain. I tried to wrench my hands away from Selena’s face but it was as if they’d been stuck there with super-flue.
Selena finally pulls away from me and I collapse in her lap, completely devoid of energy, but I attempt to fight the black abyss that is threatening to overcome me. The pull is too strong, and my eyes close, the darkness of the back of my eyelids appearing to surround me. My eyes flick open in one last desperate attempt to stall the inevitable. All too soon, my eyes fall shat and the wave of unconsciousness overtakes my body, leaving me helpless.
“Hello, child.” The voice seems to flow over me like honey and surround me in a cocoon of comfort. My eyes leisurely pan across the now white background I’m surrounded by. Once my eyes have panned the setting at least five times, I spot a small space of colour in my otherwise monotonous surroundings. I slowly push myself off of the ground and walk towards it. As I do so, it materializes into the shape of an old woman.
The woman with the voice of honey looks exactly like the stereotypical grandmother. Her grey hair is tied back in a bun and her face shows wisdom and age, yet kindness and a fiery spirit that promises to stay strong. She is hunched forward slightly, yet her eyes are wide and understanding. I feel myself being pulled towards her, as if tugged by an invisible cord, and as I approach she reaches out her arms and places my hand in hers.
“Ah, my child. I have waited a long time for this day to come.”
“What do you mean?” I’m sure my tone and facial expression convey my confusion.
“Never mind that now, my dear. Come, come. Tell me, how are you?” A wooden bench appears behind as and as soon as we sit down the blank canvas surrounding us transforms into a lush, green park.
“Um, I’m good – I think.” I looked down at myself, my stomach pain had disappeared as fast as it had come, and I felt as energized as I had been before the whole incident.
The woman laughs heartily, tilting her face towards the sky as she continues to express her mirth. “That’s good, child.” She pats my hand once. A sudden thought occurs to me, one that should have been a top priority
“Who are you?” If my abrupt question surprises her, she shows no indication other than a resigned sigh.
“Must we get into this now?” My dubious expression clues her in and she drops my hand, studying the pigeon that just landed beside the bench. I’m about to prompt her to answer my question hen she speaks. “What do you know of supernatural creatures?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” My voice has a hint of anger in it that comes from my exasperation of her cryptic replies and studious avoidance of my questions.
“Please, just humour me.” The look of desperation on her face encourages me to comply and share my sparse knowledge.
“Okay, um, I don’t know much, really. There are some tings that I read in books about, like, vampires, werewolves, fairies, wizards, angels and things like that. I don’t really know specifics, but…” I trail off, stumbling over the unfamiliar words as they leave me mouth.
The old woman leans her head back and chortles loudly. “Oh, my dear! This is the most fun I’ve had in centuries. Come, let me explain.” I let her place my hand in her lap and decide not to point out that she couldn’t have been alive for centuries, instead waiting in anticipatory silence. “You are right in thinking that many different types of supernatural creatures exist, but, oh, the things young minds come up with!” She laughs at some joke I’m not privy to and I wait in confused silence.
“I guess that those creatures you mentioned could be formed from the ones that do exist, but it’s a slight stretch. All of those ‘creatures’ come from a set of seven siblings, each with their own affinity who created their own legacy and, from there, developed The Else.”
“Okay…” I wait for her to get to the point and tell me what’s going on, but she just keeps staring at me with her wise, old eyes. “Want to tell me what’s going on now?”
“May I tell you a story?”
“Thank you. So I told you that there were seven siblings, each with their own affinity. The oldest, Warren, had an affinity for animals, especially his wolf companion. The next oldest, Reifa, had an affinity for insects and was interested in their wings. Her twin, Angela, had an obsession with the wings of birds. Their younger brother, Pierre, had a fear of the sun; I don’t know what the scientific name is. Um, yes, Pierre, he was followed by Mali, who was very connected to the mind. She was sensitive and could often tell the intentions of others, and things like that. The youngest two were another set of twins. At birth, Davey died and left Layla alone. She soon followed, not able to live without the balance of her twin. Do you follow what I’m saying?” I nod my head as I recount the names of the siblings, attempting to remember them.
“Good. So, Mali was the strongest of them all. The others had their weaknesses, and many of them had violent tendencies. Warren and Pierre procreated first, s as to keep their line of affinity going before they went to war. Following that, they did as planned – warred. Angela and Reifa had many arguments over who was better and eventually they separated from each other to develop their own skills and obsessions with animals and their skills in the sky. Davey and Layla continued to remain together in the afterlife, providing balance for those with lives. Mali was caught in the middle of it all, not yet strong enough to combat them al and her mind was still too fragile and open to influences at that stage.”
She turns her now glassy eyes towards me. “Do you know what happens when the most powerful beings in the world are at war, and the only one who isn’t is in a state of depression?” I shake my head in confusion and try to take in this complexly simple story. “Chaos. Hell. Evil, that’s what. And do you know what happens after that?” I decide to speak up and try and think of the correct response.
“They become angrier?” I question and the answering smile lighting up the old woman’s face causes a smile to show on mine too.
“Yes. So, eventually Mali decided to run. On the way she found love, and then raised her children to do what she had not; to build walls to keep out negative influences and slowly bring peace back to the world. Mali chose to follow her partner, and gave up immortality. Since then, no one has possessed as much power as her, even though they attempt to finish the task she sent them on.”
“Children?” I question lighty
“Yes, they were Mali’s, whom she raised to do good and fix what she and her siblings broke,” she explains. “It’s a shame, they were all such beautiful and kind people, so much potential,” the old woman muses to herself. “Such drastic consequences from sibling rivalry, don’t you think? And then to die, oh my, my. Oh look, it rhymed!” The look of glee at her rhyme distracts me momentarily before I pull my mind back into focus.
“You say this as if you know them personally.” I try to comment unsuspicious, but I don’t think I succeed if the frozen smile on her face is any indication. I glance at her and await her response. I am just about to prompt her to reply when she heaves a great sigh and looks at me with sad eyes.
“You are very perceptive, child. It will serve you well.” She pets my hand nostalgically as she smiles a smile that doesn’t meet here yes. “You are correct, child. I am Layla and you, dear, are no ordinary girl.”
“What do you mean?” I ask in confusion. “Are you trying to tell me you are some dead twin from a story about supernatural creatures? And what do you mean I’m not an ‘ordinary girl?’ What else would I be?”
“You are someone important – so important that the fate of the world rests on your shoulders. What you do now affects the world hereafter.” She ignores my questioning of who she is, and I glare at her in confusion as I await clarification
“I – I don’t understand.” I stammer. “What are you saying? I’m just an ordinary girl, if anything I’m less than average, not more. What you’re saying – it just can’t be true. Who am I? Who are you? Are you dead? Am I dead?” There is a desperate panic growing in my body and I can hear my voice quiver. So can Layla, apparently, because she gives me a look of pity.
“You are not dead, child. I wish I could tell you more, dear, but there are some things that even I am forbidden to say. I fear I have already said too much.”
The line that was just uttered from her mouth sounds so much like one of those new fantasy-romance books that it enrages me rather than confusing me, as I’m sure it was intended to. “Forbidden by who?” I snarl. “If you are this all-powerful dead twin that you say you are, then you should not fear anyone!” I don’t want for her reply, just continue to spew the arguments that are building up in the back of my mind. “This is some sick game you’re playing here. Knocking out an innocent girl in a cave and then working some – some – illusion and then telling her some weird story about people with powers and then telling her she’s important but you can’t tell her why!
I’ve heard about people like you, but I never thought you really existed. Do you get some kind of sadistic joy out of scaring kids? And this one wasn’t even funny! I mean, if you are going to go to all of this effort then you could at least think up something better!” I keep talking, ignoring the thought in the back of my mind that in situations like this the girl normally ends up raped, or worse. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, or are you just going to keep sitting there and looking t me like the dumbass you are?”
I stand akimbo and keep up the front of confidence that I have just presented, hoping that I can hold in my fear. Then suddenly, she bursts out laughing. She laughs heartily, bending over and gripping her sides as if to hold in the laughter. My façade starts to face as I stare at her in confusion, my arms dropping to my sides. The laughter starts to fade and as she turns to me I can see the mirth in her eyes.
“You’ll be fine, and I know you’ll be strong” she smiles at me as one would their own child. “I’m proud of you and who you’ve become. This has turned out even better than I could’ve imagined.” She looks at me and I can see in her eyes that she doesn’t want to say goodbye. She starts to face and I reach out for her, but she’s gone and I’m suddenly back in the cave.
“She’s this way, I know it this time!” I shout over my shoulder to Emily. We’ve been wondering around the caves for at least twenty minutes with no sign of my sister. I have consistently approached every cave we’ve entered sure that it was the one, and then being overcome with despair as I see only more unfamiliar landmarks.
I rush ahead into the next cave and stop suddenly as the form of a boy appears in front of me. I stop dead in my tracks and attempt to tear my eyes away from the beauty that is the boy in front of me. The darkness in the cave obstructs my vision, but I can clearly make out the chiseled shape of the six-pack of the man in front of me, even through his shirt. His blonde hair just begs for me to run my hands through it and they twitch at my side as I restrain them.
But his physique is not what captures my attention, but rather his eyes. The brown colour of the iris seems to glow in an unnatural yet familiar way that I just can’t pinpoint. They ensnare me in their depths and trap me in a cage made of his unusual brown coloured eyes. They glow like a jewel and pull me to him immediately.
“Um, who are you?” I say as soon as I can get my wits about me. As much as a part of me just wants to run into his arms and follow him anywhere he goes, part of me still pulls back, weary of random men in caves. I take a tentative step towards him and he reciprocates, tilting his head to the side as if my behavior intrigues him.
“Hello.” The deep timbre of his voice resonates throughout the chamber and makes my knees wobble slightly. “I am Faegan, but you can call me Fae.” The unusual name doesn’t stun me as it normally would.
“Faegan,” I try it out on my lips and the name seems just right. He closes his eyes for a moment before opening them, as if he was reclaiming his composure. He looks at me patiently and I quickly blurt out my name.
“Selena,” he says as he closes his eyes. My eyelids flutter at the unexpected joy of hearing my name on his lips.
“My friends call me Sel,” I clarify, unable to tear my eyes away from him. An awkward silence ensues and I shift uncomfortably from foot to foot, looking down at the ground.
“Would you like me to take you to your friend?” I look up at Faegan, startled.
“What do you mean? She’s right here…” I trail off as I look behind me to see that Emily is no longer at my side. “Do you know where she went?” I can feel the panic building up inside me but it immediately disappears as he smiles.
“I was not referring to that friend, but yes, I do have knowledge of her whereabouts.”
“Which friend are you talking about then?” I say
“The one who fell unconscious in the other cave. You seemed to offer her comfort and were upset by her state of consciousness. I assumed she was your friend – am I wrong?” I suddenly remember why I’m lost in these caves in the first place, and my stomach tightens in anxiety.
“Lay…my sister…oh my god, is she okay?” I grip my stomach as if that can stave off the pain before looking back into his eyes. “Em, where is Em? Where is Lay? Oh gosh, what’s happening?”
He smiles again and I practically melt into a puddle at his feet. “Your friends are safe – you should not fret. We will meet them again, of that I am sure. Now, come, let me lead you through these paths.” I eye him wearily, but at this point there seems to be no alternatives. And either way, I don’t really want to leave him. I step next to him, and we begin to walk down the path.
We stay in a comfortable silence and every few moments I glance over at my companion, wondering what he knows and if he has been watching me like I watch him. Occasionally I see him glance at me through my peripheral vision but whenever I look over at him, he is merely glancing straight ahead. Suddenly he stops and I stumble quickly to slow my forward movement before I make an inelegant face plant into the ground. I manage to maintain my balance, and turn to glance into Faegan’s mesmerizing eyes.
“For now, my lady.” He bows down towards my feet and then disappears into the shadows of the cave.
I glance down at the ground and catch sight of my bracelet, seeing the colour of my Citrine stone, the colour that I feel I own, the colour of his eyes.
“Sel?” I peer around the corner that I’m sure Selena just raced into, but I find the cave empty. “Sel, stop playing games! This isn’t funny, we need to find Lay!” I almost stomp my foot, but stop before my immaturity gets the better of me. “What is going on with me today?” I muse to myself as I tentatively try to follow my friend.
“May I be of service?” The male voice behind me makes me turn around in surprise. My once over tells me that his figure is good, but he seems to stick to the shadows, blocking a full assessment.
“Um, no thanks. I’m okay.” I say quietly, reflectively retreating into the shadows on the other side of the cave.
“Well then, may I walk along side you?” His question surprises me and I stare at him in shock for a moment.
“W-what? N-no, you can’t just follow me down some random caves. What if you- no! I’m…I’m meeting my friends. It’s a private meeting…” I push my back into the wall, my heart beating fast. Shit, I can’t do this! This was something Selena always took care of. The man gives me a small smile, stepping slightly into the light.
“I promise, I mean no harm. Can’t I just accompany you?” I look at him in shock for a moment, seeing the abashed façade of a boy as lost as I was. I nodded slightly in admission, and started waking down the cave. He lets out a relieved sigh before mirroring my movements on the opposite wall as we tentatively watch each other. I absentmindedly start humming one of my favourite songs, and as the first phrase leaves my mouth the man opposite me stops abruptly.
“What? Is something wrong?” The wide-eyed look on his face has me looking around in terror and moving away from the wall I’m plastered against. I turn to face the wall as I back away, almost jumping out of my skin when I bump into the man behind me. I turn around and gasp as his ice-blue eyes capture my attention before he bows his head towards my waist.
“My lady, it is you.” He looks up at me with reverence in his expression and when I meet his gaze he quickly averts his eyes, as if he doesn’t feel he has the status to make eye contact with me. “I didn’t doubt it before, but now I am sure. It is an honour!” He leans down as far as possible, as if he is in the presence of a queen. It unnerves me, to say the least.
“Look, I don’t know who you are or who you think I am, but would cut out the bowing, at least? It’s creeping me out.” I stand with my hands on my hips and glare at him with my best authoritative look. He retreats at once and looks at me with reverence.
“I regret to inform you, my lady, that I am not allowed to tell you who you are. But you may call me Dudon, or Du.” My forehead crinkles as I try to pronounce the unfamiliar name and his ice-blue eyes seem to grow brighter and spark some kind of familiarity from deep within my soul.
“Well, Dudon, my name is Emily. I don’t know what you think you know about me, but whatever it is you must be mistaken.” He doesn’t appear to register my disapproval but he murmurs my name and my heart flutters involuntarily. “Well, since there doesn’t seem to be anything dangerous around, I would like to continue, if you don’t mind.” I start walking at a brisk pace whilst still being aware of Dudon behind me. He starts heading for a cave on my left and I instinctively head into that cave, watching as he follows.
I’m watching Dudon out of the corner of my eye, so I’m aware as soon as he stops. He bends down at the waist and proclaims, “It has been an honour, Emily. Until next time.” And then he seems to materialize into shadows, drifting away from me. I turn around and search furiously for him and when I can’t find any trace of him become enraged. Why did he just leave me here, when he was so adamant he wanted to follow me before?
I turn back around and start to list all of his undesirable traits when I see two figures up ahead. I rush forward to meet Selena just as the other figure disappears from sight. I envelop her in a bear hug and she reciprocates. “Where did you go?” I say worriedly, squeezing her tight. “I followed you into the cave and you weren’t there!”
“I don’t know. One second you were behind me and the next you weren’t.” Her voice seems far away, as if remembering something and she seems like she doesn’t want to tell me about. I am about to ask her what she’s thinking when I hear a gasp that sounds suspiciously like Melayna.